Midlands shows its ambition by hiring 'heavyweight' government comms chief

Central government comms chief Simon Wren has left London to take the top comms job at the recently established combined authority in the Midlands.

Simon Wren: Has left central government comms for a role at WMCA
Simon Wren: Has left central government comms for a role at WMCA
He leaves his role as interim director of comms at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which he took up earlier this year, and begins his first full week today in the newly created role of director of comms for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). 

Established in 2016, WMCA is the successor body to West Midlands County Council but with expanded powers to co-ordinate the region’s public services, including mental health and public transport, as well as international investment.

Wren’s role will be to communicate WMCA’s regional aspirations at home and abroad.

It is a mark of the region’s ambition that it has brought in a central government communicator with Wren’s breadth of experience.

Career government communicator 

He worked on a brief secondment at the Department for Communities and Local Government before taking a year-long leadership course in international relations.

Wren forged a place for himself at the Home Office, having been its head of news for five years between 2006 and 2011 before becoming director of comms in 2012, where he co-ordinated government messages on crime and law and order agendas.

He also spent a large part of his career at the Ministry of Defence and took the role of director of comms at the department for a year between 2011 and 2012.

He was the ministry’s head of news and held the same position at the Department for Transport for four years.

Wren joined the civil service in 1985. Early roles at the MoD included working on procurement, Army training and Navy planning before becoming its chief press officer in 2000.

He was acting director of news at the MoD during the UK response to 9/11, before managing the comms effort during the subsequent military operations in Afghanistan.

In 2001 he became head of media relations and in 2003 undertook a short-term operational tour as the command media adviser for UK Gulf Forces.

Improving lives in the Midlands

The WMCA said Wren’s role would build on the work it had already started to grow the regional economy and improve the lives of people living there.

Wren said: "The WMCA is already delivering a wide range of programmes designed to make a positive impact on the lives of local people – and my role will be to ensure our complex agenda for a thriving, inclusive economy is communicated clearly to an engaged audience, both at home and abroad. I cannot wait to get started."

Former John Lewis boss Andy Street was elected mayor of WMCA in 2017, one of six new combined authorities to stage mayoral election campaigns last year.

Street said of Wren’s appointment: "Simon is a communications heavyweight with an impressive record of delivering high-impact campaigns for central government."

He continued: "We have a great story to tell. Simon’s calibre, experience and knowledge will be invaluable for the WMCA as we look to communicate this narrative of rapid economic growth, while providing the best possible opportunities for the communities we serve."

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